Quebec Premier François Legault says his government must do better and show more empathy toward Indigenous people, after denying once again the existence of systemic racism in the province during a series of heated debates at the National Assembly last week.
On the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, he shut down a motion to make the day a provincial statutory holiday, saying it would be "too costly" and that Quebec needed to remain competitive and productive.
He also reiterated that his government could not adopt Joyce's Principle, a series of recommendations drafted by Joyce Echaquan's community after her death, because of its mention of systemic racism.
"There are racist people, but it's not true that the education network, the health-care network have racist systems," he said on the eve of the commemorations, and just one day after Joyce Echaquan's loved ones marked the one-year anniversary of the 37-year-old Atikamekw woman's death.
'I have a duty to set an example'
In a lengthy message posted on his Facebook account on Monday to mark the National Day of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Legault admitted that his comments were insensitive.
"We didn't send the message of compassion and solidarity that was required in this situation," he said. "I take responsibility for that. As premier, I have a duty to set an example."
He acknowledged the pain that Indigenous families must go through when a loved one disappears and they feel like their government doesn't care. "No one should have to go through this in Quebec," he said.
Legault's promise to do better comes the day before Quebec coroner Géhane Kamel is set to publicly present her report on the death Echaquan.
The report, which was released on Friday, says that racism and prejudice contributed to Echaquan's death, and recommends that the government acknowledges and addresses systemic racism in health care.